Review: 2011 GMC Terrain AWD SLT-2

By Charles Krome

Frankly, I didn’t hold out much hope for the success of GMC when General Motors decided to make the truck-only division one of its core brands. Not only did I think truck sales in general would begin slipping, but I also thought it would be particularly difficult to make a go of things in the post-bankruptcy auto industry with a lineup that essentially duplicates the Chevy Truck roster. Well, I was obviously wrong on the first point (at least so far), and that made me especially curious about the second.

Today, I can consider that curiosity satisfied, because I just spent a few days living with a fully loaded 2011 GMC Terrain, provided to me with a full tank of gas by the friendly folks at General Motors.

One look at the Terrain was enough to put to rest my concerns over the badge-engineering issue. You can get away with a lot of similarities between vehicles under the skin as long as their exteriors are highly differentiated, and that’s certainly the case with the Terrain and its sibling, the Chevy Equinox. In fact, people aren’t likely to confuse the GMC with anything else on the road today. The Terrain’s imposing front fascia and squared-off wheel “arches” take care of that.

That wheel treatment gives the Terrain a slightly Jeep-y look when viewed from the side, but it also adds to the vehicle’s “manufactured” appearance. That is, the heavy use of sharp angles instead of more natural, organic shapes strongly emphasizes the fact the Terrain is a mechanical piece of equipment, which plays right into its “Professional Grade” positioning. Designers were likely trying to achieve the same effect with the Terrain’s grille, but here things just became too busy. The foglight housings aren’t well integrated into the design, and the space below the grille itself, although I’m sure it’s a design element, almost looks as if it’s just an example of poor fit between the grille and lower bumper.

I did like the Terrain’s basic proportions, as well as the wrap-around treatment given to the side window behind the C-pillar, which is a cue that Ford seems to have borrowed for the new Explorer.

Two other things I have to point out: You can see some of the Terrain’s naughty bits hanging down below the body line in some angles, and that kind of thing always struck me as sloppy. Also, the distinctively shaped wheel arches are clearly tough to fill. The tires seemed about ready to brush up against the openings in the side-to-side dimension, yet it looked like more rubber was needed going north-south.

Still, I’m going to give my usual caveat here about how subjective design is. I may not be geeked about the Terrain’s exterior, but you can’t say it blends in with the crowd. And it’s obvious some folks like it: Sales of GMC’s smallish crossover are up more than 53 percent through the first quarter of 2011.

In addition, you don’t notice any of that stuff when you’re sitting in the driver’s seat. The front of the Terrain’s cabin was very well done, although designers obviously put style ahead of substance. Some of the plastic trim pieces, especially the “chrome” around the main gauge cluster, felt too cheap for my tastes and seemed inconsistent with the Terrain’s nearly $39,000 price tag.

Yet beyond a slight let-down in material quality, I have to rate this as one of the nicest interiors I’ve seen in quite a while. The two-tone color scheme and the design of things like the audio/nav unit and the door panels was very sophisticated, with enough detail work to show GMC is trying to up its game but not so much that the end result is cartoonish. A nice illustration is the way the symmetric dashboard showcases two equal “wings” in front of the driver and front-seat passenger.

There was plenty of interior versatility, too, with split-folding rear seats, a second-row that had the GMC “Multi-Flex” system for fore and aft adjustments, a very deep storage compartment between the front seats, and both some nifty tie-downs and a power outlet in the rear cargo area.

It was a little tight for passengers in the second row, though, and a quick look at the spec sheets tell the tale. Although the Terrain is about six inches longer than the Honda CR-V, it’s the Honda that has more passenger volume.

If I were going to stop the review here, I’d say the GMC Terrain made an excellent choice as a near-premium crossover with room for four and a truckload of available equipment. My tester came with a rearview camera system, sunroof, an eight-way power driver’s seat, cruise control, an up-level eight-speaker Pioneer audio system, navigation with a 7-inch touchscreen, a 40-gig hard drive, 19-inch wheels, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system and the proverbial much, much more.

And while all that stuff moved the Terrain’s bottom line from a starting MSRP of $24,500 to an out-the-door price tag of $38,775, that amount is right in line with the cost of similarly equipped competitors like the Ford Edge and Nissan Murano.

But despite everything that I enjoyed about the Terrain, I can’t recommend this particular model, and it’s for one simple reason: Configured with all-wheel-drive and a V6 engine, it returns EPA ratings of 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway. To put this into context, the Terrain’s big brother, the GMC Acadia, goes 16/23 with a bigger V6 and AWD. Heck, the GMC Sierra full-size pickup, packing a 5.3-liter V8 and its own four-wheel-drive system, goes 15/21.

It’s not like the V6/AWD combination in the Terrain provides much in the way of driving thrills, either. The handling actually was above-average for a crossover, but the vehicle felt poky enough around town that I popped the hood and counted the cylinders for myself, just to make sure there wasn’t some sort of mix-up with which vehicle was delivered.

A few more random pros and cons about the Terrain:

  • The “Carbon Black Metallic” paint was a $195 option but well worth it; the finish on the Terrain was beautiful.
  • The Terrain features a power liftgate that can be adjusted to open to different heights, keeping it within reach of shorter owners.
  • The slot for CDs is unmarked and located below the rest of the audio/nav unit. At first I thought it was just some kind of wacky design element.
  • The navigation system worked flawlessly.
  • The doors didn’t seem to open wide enough.

With gas prices nearing the $4-per-gallon mark, the Terrain’s “fuel efficiency” is a deal breaker for me. Especially because GMC offers an AWD/I4 configuration on the Terrain that’s good for an EPA line of 20/29, along with an FWD/I4 model that reaches 22/32.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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  1. I greatly prefer the Equinox’s design to the Terrain’s. I will give GM credit for differentiating the two, and I like the Terrain’s interior, but I really can’ get past the absurd wheel arches. They’re way too butch for the low-profile tires and the fact that this thing is just a small crossover. They remind me of a five year old wearing daddy’s too-big shoes.

  2. Gas if $4 a gallon. This is DOA.

  3. have 2011 terrain slt2 need to know why i have to leave the air/heat on for it to come on when useing the remote start

  4. Not clear on what your issue is, Dennis. Do you have automatic climate control? If not, then it makes sense that you’d have to physically set the manual controls to the proper settings. Try a Terrain or GM forum ( has a great “tech questions” section) and ask the folks there. Or ask your dealer.

  5. I am kind of confused with the mpg on the 2011 gmc terrain v4. it does not look like is giving me 22 mpg in the city, and on the vehicle info it shows 16.1 mpg, which one is it anyway. Is there a formula I can use to calculate how many gallons of gas per tank.

  6. marlene, mileage calculations are simple. Fill your gas tank, then just divide the number of miles driven since your last fillup by the number of gallons you just pumped into your vehicle (you have to reset your trip odometer to do this).

    For example, if you drove 250 miles and pumped 15.5 gallons into your Terrain, that would be 250 divided by 15.5 = 16.1 mpg. Your owner’s manual would have a section under capacities that gives your fuel tank capacity if you want to know how many gallons it holds.

  7. America used to be a lot more car-savvy. Did this reviewer actually check the mileage his demo achieved? Physics is a pretty inflexible science. In the real world, there is no way an Acadia AWD will come close to an AWD V-6 Terrain in mileage.
    I just took delivery of a new 2011 I-4 FWD SLE-2. More than $10K less than the unit tested, and hope to come close to the EPA ratings. I wouldn’t fall back on EPA ratings to slam a car, without driving it long enough to check them mileage myself.

  8. @Steve Arnett – He had the car for a week. I’m sure he put a few hundred miles on it. The fact is that the EPA ratings are what buyers are going to compare, and the Terrain AWD V6 model has disappointing numbers. The Acadia’s larger, more powerful V6 is perhaps less taxed than the Terrain’s smaller one is. Gearing is probably not identical between the two. You can’t break the rules of physics, but there are far more factors than just the size and weight of a vehicle that influence fuel efficiency.

    Incidentally, if you Google ‘disappointing equinox 2.4 mileage’ (no quotes), you’ll see that the drivetrain you selected, while the most efficient of the four choices, has had trouble hitting its numbers in the real world.

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